Archive for the ‘empty nest’ category

Let them mess up the kitchen

May 11, 2011

Making cupcakes can be messy. Let children get their hands in the batter, lick the pans, and experiment in the kitchen. Here's a parenting tip: cook with them.

It has been at least a decade since I made cupcakes. I needed a hiatus after sending cupcakes to school to celebrate many birthdays of my four children for years.

Sadly cupcakes are banned in many schools today.

Kids still need to be encouraged to cook. As I managed the batter in and out of the bowl and made the icing, I remembered how hard it was to make cupcakes when I was in elementary school. It was hard to follow the recipe, divide up the batter neatly and evenly and to ration the icing. They had to be baked them the right amount of time and I tried my best to not spill the ingredients.

My mother never complained about the mess we made when cooking. She encouraged us to cook, even sweet treats. It saved money off the family grocery bill — always a concern when you have nine children — and gave us the life skill of cooking confidence and self-esteem.

Because she gave us free rein in the kitchen and coached us, I have the attitude that I can cook anything if I follow the recipe. I’ve saved thousands of dollars by knowing how to cook and not needing to eat out regularly.

Cooking together is an excellent way for families to bond and to encourage cooking skills in children. STart with simple recipes- especially "betty crocke"r.Today I hate to cook alone. I miss having the kids around to break eggs, mix up the batter,  lick the bowls and appreciate the results.

I licked the bowls this morning and started the day with an excellent chocolate/sugar surge.

I wish these cupcakes were destined to celebrate a child’s birthday at school. They are for a reception at a memorial service, the father from a family my children grew up with.

Life is short. Do what matters. Make cupcakes with your kids today and relish the moment. You’ll be giving them a gift that will last them a lifetime.

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How to live happily ever after

April 11, 2011
a strong marriage is the most important thing to a family. Children need both parents. Parents need each other. Families work together when there is no divorce. keeping a marriage going is one of the most important aspects of family life. Parents must take time together to have fun without the children.

A marriage starts out with high hopes of living happily ever after.

You know the grim reality — about half of all marriages fail.  The best investment we can make for our children is to defeat that statistic.

HOW? Work at it. Working at marriage can be fun — especially spending time together without the children. I recommend parents leave the kids home and go out on monthly dates and to go away annually for at least a weekend. The excursions can be simple, frugal and fun.

After having fun together, practice these three relationship basics.

1. Show up. Make home, marriage and family a priority. Some pursuits might have to be put on hold while raising children. Do what you say you’re going to do. Have family meetings.

2. Pay attention. Notice each other. Talk to each other. Be fully present. Give each other compliments, do little things for each other without needing recognition. Tune up your marriage in therapy and at workshops. Treat a marriage like a car that needs regular maintenance. If you don’t take care of it, it will fall into disrepair.

3. Tell the truth. Nothing undermines a relationship faster than if you can’t trust that person because they can’t be depended upon to tell the truth.

Children grow up and go away. Marriages can also go away if you don’t feed and water them regularly.

The first 20 years are the toughest years of marriage maintenance for two reasons:

1. You’re young and can be self-centered,  selfish, impatient and have high expectations your partner will anticipate and fulfill all of your needs. I started out this way and it took about 20 years to grow out of those mistakes.

2. You’re focused on the children, advancing in a career and making ends meet. Combined with youth and mistaken expectations, and neglecting your connection by not spending time together, marriages can wobble and break.

After 20 years, the kids and you have grown up and your career and income are more stable. It also helps if you both agree on money, sex and kids.

Schedule a monthly date TODAY and set up child care or trade with friends so you can get away for a weekend alone together. Have fun!

The yin-yang of school vacation

December 15, 2010
yin yang of college students brings changes for parents and children. LEarning to roll with the developmental stages of college students and teenagers and life is a skill. Discipline and family meetings and structure are a part of getting along with college students who come home.

Kristen prepared this delicious dinner of macaroni and cheese, carrot raisin salad and a green salad. Yum.

One of the hardest parts of life and parenting is the constant development and change, and eventual growing up and leaving home by children. When parenting is hard and we have to put our own needs second, it’s hard to stay in the present moment and enjoy the age and stage of our children.

Childhood sometimes feels like it moves like a turtle, then all of a sudden, it has flown away like an eagle and the nest is empty.

When Kristen, 22, comes home from graduate school for holidays and Ian, 26, temporarily roosts here between seasons of organic farming, it feels wonderfully familiar and good. That’s the Yin.

The Yang is, “They left the kitchen dirty AGAIN! What happened to my routines and my food!?” And again after they leave, “I have way too much food in the fridge,” “I’ve gotten used to them being here. The house and my heart feel stripped, quiet and abandoned.”

The Yin-Yang of children living with us and growing up is part of the constant change of life’s seasons. Adjusting to empty nest is often under-rated in significance. It is a HUGE change.

For those of you with little ones, you have regular milestones where they don’t need you as much. Giant steps in development accumulate regularly. My mother said, “Babies need mothers less and less every day from birth forward.” Very true.

They stop nursing, start walking then start school and day care. Later on, their friends become more important and they stop talking to parents as much. Tweens and teens spend more time at school, work and with friends. The increasing separation during the high school years prepares us for the final separation.

The four to six years of revolving door to and from college is fraught with adjustment. As soon as I get used to them being here, they’re gone.

The good news is that we have some agreements on living together, will share in the cooking and cleaning, and enjoy the present moment for as long as we have it. It feels good to have family dinner together again.

The past is history         The future is a mystery

So we must celebrate the gift of the present

A really good reason to have a dog

September 16, 2010
Gonzo is stretching beside Cindy. Having pets is a wonderful way to bond with children. Pets and families go together. Good parenting means spending time with children and animals and slowing down to their time.

Gonzo decided to stretch beside Cindy.

The only reason I’m a dog owner is because my children wanted a dog.

What would you say when your daughter, 14, calls you at work, where you’re working under a regular weekly deadline as the editor of a newspaper. Your second dog has just died after nine years with the family — if only she could have hung on three more years.

Your daughter’s three older siblings have left home. Your daughter is home along after school. Your daughter asks in a very small voice, (very unlike other voices she uses with her mother), softly, with vulnerability, like she’s 7 years old again, “Dad says if you say “yes” we can get another dog.”

If you’re a good mother and not a dog lover, just a dog tolerator, what’s your answer?

Gonzo came to live with us eight years ago. The daughter left home four years ago. So you know who takes care of the dog. Dad! I’m her stepmother. I do what looks good and feels good and what I feel like doing because she belongs to dad and daughter.

One really good reason to have a dog is because of the cute, funny and stupid things they do. Even when my children were spitting mad at me, I could always change the atmosphere by saying, “Do you know what Boomer/Sophie/Gonzo did today?”

Even now that they’ve moved out and onto a better place, my “children” love to hear what Gonzo did today.

When Cindy started stretching, Gonzo plunked herself right between Cindy’s legs. Gonzo and Cindy adore each other. Cindy — my excellent friend and massage therapist — even gave Gonzo a massage.

Even dogs like a good massage. Gonzo is not my best friend, but my children ADORED dogs and bonded with our three family dogs. Dogs go along with having a family. Children can do plenty of chores connected to dogs.

Gonzo gets an expert massage. Cindy is really good at finding tight muscles on mammals and kneading out the tension.

Empty nest isn’t so empty

September 1, 2010
Empty nest comes and goes. Empty nest is an opportunity to re-discover couple hood. Empty nest is hardly and empty feeling. This is a shot of our full nest, with four chidren. Raising children is one of life's greatest challenges. Raising children together meant a lot of good parenting and sacrifice of our couple-hood.

The gang. It feels so normal when they're home, and equally as normal when it rebounds back to the two of us.

“Be prepared for the possibility of your parents divorcing during your freshman year,” read the letter from my daughter’s college in 2006. I, too, wondered if our marriage of 26 years would survive.

Our youngest had prepared us for empty nest during high school with a universal strategy.

  1. Avoid parents.
  2. Get involved with a job, friends and school activities.
  3. Interact with enough courtesy to access the car and money.
  4. Be out when parents are home, and home when they’re out.
  5. Claim, “I can’t eat dinner with you tonight, I have to work.”

When Saturday soccer abruptly ended during her freshman year, it opened up possibilities I had forgotten existed. When she quit Sunday afternoon soccer, whole weekends arrived with no demand for our witnessing, wallet or chaffering.

Even weeknights brimmed with possibilities — no need to whip up dinner, wolf it down and drive someone somewhere.

Her senior year of high school launched us into unfamiliar turf: home alone together often. It was like visiting a foreign country I hadn’t been to in ages, with an old friend, who I hadn’t had time for in a while.

At first, our couple-rebirth was awkward and unfamiliar. Then it blossomed into glorious, fun and eventually, normal.

With our new life for two, we moved into a house in need of total renovation, a distraction for our first two years of empty nest. We’ve always shined under a full-court press.

Next, we took some trips together and rekindled an old interest, duplicate bridge. We play with gusto at least twice a week. It’s a partnership game that’s a lot like staying married. The best teams succeed under duress, don’t berate each other too much for mistakes, and celebrate victory.

The college schedule brought them home with astonishing regularity for a dozen years. As soon as we got used to them being home, filling the fridge with food, sharing cars and TVs, they departed. Silence and stillness descend, until another holiday.

The final curtain has fallen with youngest settled in graduate school. We’ve rehearsed during the renovation project, across the bridge table, and in the quiet of the dinner table set for two.

I fell in love with him. Again. It’s hardly an empty feeling.

Drive a Volvo over a cliff

August 30, 2010
college costs for young people mean parents drive old cars. The decals on our car windows tell all. Every college sticker on the window means thousands of dollars committed to a young person.

I'm waiting for a sticker from Alfred University.

Look carefully at the top of the photo and you’ll see three college stickers. They explain where thousands of dollars have gone in the past dozen years.

A friend who also has four children explains college tuition: “Evey year when I pay the college bill, it’s like driving a brand new Volvo over a cliff.”

His children went to private colleges. We drove used Volvo’s over the cliff because we’re patrons of state schools.

College is a good investment. I’m not complaining, only noticing and explaining the connection between old cars with college stickers.

The 2001 Camry pictured above passed 200,000 miles this summer. I figure every minute I drive it I’m saving money — for more college expenses.

Although this year we have a reprieve. Kristen is in graduate school, with tuition included in her fellowship, and a grant for living expense. She’s almost across the finish line. We’re still supplementing, and I’m happy to be able to do it.

I see my peers on the road, driving old cars, plastered with college stickers on the back window. They should read, “My child goes to this college and all I got is a lousy windshield sticker.”

She’s gone away

August 19, 2010
She's gone away. My youngest daughter is off to college, again and finally. She's the fourth and final and it feels to final to have our house empty again. Empty nest is a cruel reality.

Kristen at a crossroad of her life.

Kristen  left on Monday for her first semester of graduate school. Her car full, the house empty. I feel the familiar yin-yang of college students coming and going of the past 11 years.

This time is different. Nothing could have prepared for the day when the youngest left, never to return for more than a visit.

I moved a few orphaned belongings to the attic, feeling like an orphan parent. I donated a bag of clothing , scaled down food purchases, and expect her to turn up in the morning, at dinner time.

I can’t believe she fit everything into her little Celica and how orderly she left her room. My soul is disorderly and crammed with conflicting emotions. I detoured my life and put the four of them first, ahead of my own needs, career and life.

Empty nest was expected, anticipated and prepared for. I gave them skills to live independently — based on the ability to make good decisions. Now I now coach other parents to teach children and teens the art of independent decision-making.

I’ve done my job well. I’m as obsolete as her empty bedroom. My relationship with my four grown children is optional, and hopefully out of desire, not obligation. We’re establishing new traditions and reasons to get together. How often is often enough? How many calls and visits are intrusive? At what point does an adult child’s extended visit imply he should pay room and board?

There’s always new ground to cover in parenting, which is why children invading our lives enriches, challenges, frustrates, entertains and gives us a purpose.

It has been worth every sacrifice. My husband, dog and I mourn over the end of an era. The dog tried to stow away in Kristen’s already-crammed car. Bob and I had a good long wet hug when she didn’t show up for dinner.

It’s been a good run.